The #1 question I receive over the years as a Storytelling Director, and as a lover of roleplay, is how to be a better roleplayer. Whether you're new to roleplaying, new to DR, or an old grandpa larp beard trying to up their game, a lot of good roleplay starts from a strong foundation of fundamental tips and tricks that you can incorporate into your play and your character design.
While this article is mostly geared for Dystopia Rising, as our roleplay is very sandbox-oriented and community-driven, there's a lot of value in keeping these techniques in mind no matter what kind of LARP you play. Try to think of these next time you try a new LARP, new character, or a new scene at game.
Don't Be Strider
I think a couple of us old gross farts remember roleplaying in ancient AOL chatrooms or MUDs. If you lived in that era, then you probably remembered the perpetual habit of first-timers: sitting in a dark corner of the bar/tavern/room, smoking a cigarette, trying to look brooding and mysterious so someone would talk to you. AKA, The Strider Syndrome. The fact of the matter is that it didn't work then online and it really doesn't work now.
Don't be afraid to walk up and talk to folks instead of waiting for them to come to you. Don't be Strider. Be the gregarious hobbit. Get drunk, dance on a table, talk to everyone. Being proactive is scary, but it's the quickest way to get integrated in game and find yourself a new group of people to associate with. There's a couple different ways you can do this: how you've made -- or not made -- your character, and what your character's goals are.
Is It Fun?
LARPing isn't live writing a novel where you control all the characters, all the action, and you can mash them together at will. Instead, LARP is about collaboration and part of that thinking includes creating a character you can collaborate with. A character that is angry, sad, or negative might not be fun to roleplay in the same way they are to right. You may struggle to find folks that want to interact with them and you may even not have fun playing them yourself.
It doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't make these kinds of characters at all -- different personalities make for a complex and interesting world -- but it does mean that it will take a lot more work to find ways for your character to interact and you might not want to play them all the time. Consider making a character like this as a secondary, or once you have a firm understanding of your roleplay world and how it works. If it doesn't sound like a fun concept, then skip it and try something that will be more enjoyable for you and easier to click with others.
What's Your Motivation?
Okay. So you've dashed aside the Strider Syndrome. You've got a character you're definitely gonna have fun with. So you step up to the bar and strike up a conversation -- about what?
The motivations you build behind your character can help create the avenues you use to roleplay with others. Coming to your first game with an idea of what your characters wants or what you want as a player can help break the ice and build up relationships at game. These motivations can greatly vary between characters and players, but here's some ideas:
- You need work. What is your character's job? What do they do, or want to do? What do they need to do that work? Do they need tools or customers or a place to do it? Everyone has a purpose or a function and working that into your opening roleplay scene can be a great way to strike up a conversation with others.
- You need to find something, someone, or somewhere. This can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make it. It could be something intangible from your backstory that can never actually be find, or a real item or place at the game. This will help build a conversation with folks around you and find something to talk about that might actually lead you to other cool roleplay.
- You need to learn. My favorite example of this is literacy. With the exception of one character, I have always learned literacy in game because it is the most fun lesson you can get from another player. Having a character that needs to learn basic things is a great way to find a teacher and connect to different groups of people. This is especially true if you make yourself get different lessons from different people instead of finding it all from one person. Some of the best scenes I've ever had are lessons from other players.
There are many, many other ways to think about and create motivations too. Make sure to find a few different ones before you dive into game, so if one dries up or you don't find it fun, you can work with a different one!
Be the Roleplay You Want To See
As a Storytelling Director, I sometimes receive complaints that a certain type of roleplay isn't visible at game. "I want more faith roleplay, I want to roleplay cool spy things, I want (insert your cool RP type here)." But you have to remember that we live in a sandbox world. We create scenarios for you to play with, but primarily we react to what you are doing -- it's you who effect the world, not us. So if you want to have awesome spy RP, start by creating it and being the roleplay that you want to see. Start eavesdropping and selling information. Make a secret spy society. Sneak into places and discovery secrets. If you portray that roleplay, you will attract others who are interested in it too. If you build it, they will come.
It's part of the reason why DR:MA has so much Semper Mort plot right now. Our players showed us that they loved, and were interested in learning more about, the Semper Mort culture at DR:MA. We ran a whole King's Court plotline because they would show up every month and push amazing stories with themselves and others. You exist in a living, breathing story when you LARP, and when you do something, the world will react to it. It's better than a movie!
A class improve theatre and comedy trick is "yes, and." The theory behind it is that if you say no to someone, you are shutting down an opportunity for a scene and a chance to play. Sometimes it might be things that you know as a player would love, but might not as a character, or it might be the reverse and it's an idea that your character should love but you don't know if it sounds fun. Instead of saying no, try some "yes, and."
If someone comes up to you and wants to create a library about nothing but spiders and that sounds like the most boring thing in the world to you, instead of saying no, alter the script. Yes, we should create a library about nothing but spiders, AND go hunt down specimens to study, or AND run a class about spiders in the Mass, or AND throw them all in the Gravemind because that's a great idea that everyone will love. Playing "yes, and" allows you to do something you enjoy and creating a fun scene without making someone feel rejected or that their ideas and inspirations aren't worthwhile. It's a great way to have fun that you didn't even know you could have.
The only times you shouldn't play "yes, and" are when those scenes will put you in circumstances that make yourself uncomfortable or in danger as a player. It's still okay to say no to things that make you, the player, feel unsafe!
Practice, Practice, Practice
All of these techniques need some practice and trial by fire. The best thing you can do for yourself is try, see what works and what doesn't, and reassess. Meeting new people and making new friends will eventually be the reward you have from trying, and once you see it's working, you'll never want to go back to your dark corner ever again.
Good luck and happy roleplaying!